Thursday, October 28, 2010

Offbeat handsets at decent prices

It's always been frustrating for me that so many good handsets come late to the Indian market, and then they are way over-priced. I was walking around Croma yesterday and came across a couple of good deals on good handsets. They are not the best or latest phones, but they are fantastic value for money at the price and both will offer  you solid performance. As a co-incidence, both are also touch+QWERTY phones!

1) Motorola Milestone (see the full specs here)



(picture from  Fonearena)
The Milestone is the GSM, international version of the much-hailed Motorola Droid which was launched in US in 2009. It has only recently made its way to India. And it is currently selling in Croma Mumbai at Rs.22,000 which is a great deal.

The pros for the device are
1) It's the best Android QWERTY phones available in India as of date. It runs Android 2.1. There are very few of those, for people who prefer typing to touch screen
2) It's a great phone for people who do a lot of web browsing, typing, mailing; the large screen and keyboard will give you a good user experience
3) It's a matter of opinion, but I love the big, chunky design. A lot of phones including the Blackberry Torch and the Nokia N8 are now going retro with the big screen look, but the Milestone is like industrial macho :) This does not detract from the fact that the QWERTY keypad is very thin, and it's sleek for a slider phone. Build quality is solid too.
4) At this price, it is a solid phone. If it comes in under 20,000 on exchange of your old phone, it's a good deal. I would not have recommended it if it was Rs. 25000 plus

There are some cons too
1) The hardware has been outpaced. The Milestone has an ARM A8 600 mhz processor while most phones today have 1 gig. It also sports a TFT screen as opposed to the newest Super AMOLED technology of Samsung. What is universally agreed is that AMOLED screens improve battery life, give better blacks and brighter visibility indoors. Not everyone finds the color saturation on AMOLED to their taste, and most people say that TFT performs much better under bright sunlight. But the bottomline is that there is a newer technology.
3) It accepts only limited video formats (no DivX!) so you will have to convert videos before playing
4) Despite the huge size, the screen is only 3.7 inches and most touchscreen phones are now 4 inches. From experience I can say that every inch of screen makes a HUGE difference to your user experience.
5) Reviews have been mixed on the Motoblur interface that Motorola has layered onto Android, with some feeling that the HTC Sense UI is more intuitive and better.

The newer version, Milestone 2 is due for launch in Q4 2010. This is the international counterpart of the US/CDMA based best selling DROID X. The new version will run Android 2.2 and has upgraded hardware, notably a 1 Ghz processor. But it will still be way behind the new Droid 2 (CDMA) phone that will debut in the US soon. Basically the Milestone (GSM) version is still one iteration behind the Droid. Given that, if you want to own a Moto Android on a GSM network, the Milestone seems a good enough bet.

2) Nokia N900



Coming in at Rs. 23,000, I would recommend this to geeks. It's not often that you get the combination of an offbeat, programmable, open source device from a company like Nokia. It's easily one of the most powerful phones on the market today. It's interesting that when you visit the N900 page on the Nokia website, they are describing it as a 'mobile computer'. It's truly a tablet first and a phone later!

Pros
1) The Linux based software has been praised for delivering a smooth and stable user interface and experience. If you really wanted, you could even program this phone! At least from a software focus, obsolescence will not be an issue with this phone. Already a new version of Maemo is out.
2) With a 3.7 inch resistive screen, stylus and QWERTY keypad, there is a wide range of inputs to keep all kinds of people happy, as well as a generous screen to see what you're doing.
3) Although the hardware specs are outdated, the interface is smooth and fast. In fact a lot faster than some phones with more updated hardware.

Cons
1) Do you remember the old and popular Nokia Communicator series? Not everyone wanted to walk around with a brick. The N900 has a similar brick like quality. Having seen it in person, I can say that there are several bulky phones including the BB Torch and Moto Milestone, that look better.
2) The App Store for Maemo still has to catch up with the likes of Android and Apple. But that should not be an issue as there is a strong developer community for this platform
3) The crux of the issue is that with this device, you are out of mainstream territory and action on it. Today the operating system dictates the ecosystem that the phone will be on, and the ecosystem drives your user experience.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CDMA Phones come of age

CDMA users often complain online about their lesser choice of handsets, and the fact that CDMA phones often tend to have less features, yet are more expensive, than their GSM counterparts.

Truth to tell, CDMA as a wireless access technology has lagged behind in India, accounting for just 20% of the countries 670 million subscribers. Worldwide, according to this article in GigaOm, there are 500 million plus CDMA subscribers as against 3.45 billion GSM subscribers, so that makes less than 15% of CDMA users worldwide. Add to this one more statistic, that 70% of the CDMA users (roughly 300 million) are in Asia Pacific!

Indian site Pluggd.in reported recently that Apple was in talks with Reliance and Tata Tele to launch a CDMA version of iPhone in the Indian market. Add to this, the fact that high end phones like Samsung Epic and HTC Evo are available on 4 G networks. I would say that for the first time, some truly top-class phones are becoming accessible for CDMA subscribers. The launch of the high end CDMA phones is being driven by the 4G technology which allows way faster internet access than 3 G though it is not yet a widespread technology. Interesting for me to remember that initially CDMA was being touted as a technology with superior potential to GSM when launched, and ironically, 3 G is based on the CDMA technology.

Incidentally due to the flexibility of Android as an operating system, the foreign phones can easily be programmed to work on Indian CDMA networks, though obviously 4G is not available here. It makes a welcome addition to the poor showing of CDMA handsets in India, which seem so woefully behind the range of choice available for GSM. I don't know if the handsets can boost CDMA usage in India, but at least it can give some better options to many existing CDMA  customers

Sunday, October 24, 2010

QWERTY phones for 2010

So many people I know prefer the familiarity of a QWERTY keypad, to a touchscreen. Though a well designed touch interface can be easy and intuitive to use, there are times (mails, SMS, one-handed typing?) when QWERTY can just be so much more convenient.

Following in the steps of the iPhone, most major operating systems and hardware are now touch driven, leading me to predict in an earlier post that a smartphone will necessarily have a touch screen. But there are still a limited set of good models with QWERTY pads, across budget ranges and operating systems, so let's have a look at what you can get:


1) Android

The choice of QWERTY phones operating Android is quite limited. Leading the pack is the newly launched Samsung EPIC 4G.Do note that this is a CDMA Phone and given the current limited choice of CDMA handsets, it leads the pack


This slider phone (touch screen + QWERTY) is a successor to Samsung's flagship Galaxy S range, with similar hardware specs including 1 Ghhz processor, 512 MB RAM, 4 inch screen and 5 MP Camera/ HD recorder. It runs Android 2.1 but Samsung has already announced the upgrade to 2.2 Froyo which should get implemented by end of the year. Compared to HTC Evo/ HD Desire, it has a smaller screen and less smooth operating OS, but if you must have a QWERTY keyboard AND Android, this seems to be your best bet. No word yet on when it will come to India and potential pricing, but Samsung seems keen on the Indian market and I am sure that prices will be competitive with other top end phones.

Then there is the Motorola Milestone/Droid which was launched in India some time ago. This is a year old phone, so some of the specs are dated. It runs a 600 mhz processor and 256 MB RAM and it has a 3 inch screen, compared with the 1 gig processors, 512 MB RAM and 4 inch screens which are now de facto on top end smartphones. However, it does run Android 2.1 and the reviews have been highly positive. It retails in India for Rs. 30,000 +

I would say wait for the Milestone 2 which will be launched in Europe soon and should eventually find its way to India.It has upgraded hardware specs to match current phones and more importantly, a larger and better QWERTY keypad and it runs Android 2.2.



(Image from CNet Asia)


2) Blackberry OS 6

Any post on QWERTY phones has to include the Blackberry range, which has historically offered some of the best keyboards. But if you are a BB addict, you must ensure that you buy a phone running BB OS 6.0, the latest operating system which brings BB up to date and a little closer to the functionalities of the Android platform. 

Currently in India, the OS 6.0 is running on the latest and greatest BB Torch. At Rs.32,000, if this is a little too steep for you, BB should release the Bold 9780 soon which will run OS 6 and also be an upgrade of the existing Bold range. In addition, BB has promised that OS 6 will be coming on the Bold 9700, Bold 9650 and Pearl 3G.

3) Nokia N900

I would have been happy to see Nokia's flagship N8 running Symbian 3, with a QWERTY keypad. Nokia makes some of the best QWERTY pads, designed for handy operation with one or two hands. I loved the e-series keypads. But if you want a new Nokia QWERTY you are restricted to the older versions of Symbian and lower end models like E5 and C3.

If you are a Nokia buff (and part of me still  is - if Nokia would do Android, I would jump!) then you can look at the blog post I had written about the Nokia N900. Running a Linux based OS, this 'concept' phone is priced at Rs. 25000 according to pluggdin and is a fantastic buy at this price. My hesitation would only be as to whether Nokia plans to support this OS or not. I would guess not, since all the fanfare is towards the launch of N8 and Symbian 3. But the N900 has won a lot of accolades in the tech world and is both a high-performing and powerful phone, very different from competition.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Steering wheel spinner

My dad is not going to approve of this post because he does not believe in driving with one hand and this is about an invention that is designed to let you do just that.

I recently saw one of these in an acquaintances car and I thought I should blog about it. It's called a suicide knob or a steering wheel spinner and as the hotrodgirl entertainingly puts it "The steering wheel spinner was popular back in the 50's so you could drive with one hand and wrap the other around that special someone!" 

Historically, in pre-power steering days, suicide knobs became popular as a fashion accessory in cars where they were used to turn and accelerate at the same time, making the tires spin. But they were basically used on trucks and forklifts for frequent sharp turns  

On a more serious note, they are also used by disabled drivers as an aide. 


A suicide knob looks like this (image from Oldbug.com)




 And if you google a bit, you can find it in many attractive colors and sizes

I have not seen so many of these in India and to the best of my knowledge they are not illegal in the country. I think they make an interesting and retro auto accessory.
 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Updates on Android - end 2010

Quite a few people I know are looking to buy the latest android phones or tablets. Question is, what  to pick up? For me, the dilemma is that both Android enabled hardware and software are still in flux, and in the process of getting upgraded. I would advise anyone who wants to spend big bucks (Rs. 25000 or more) to wait a bit, if they can.

It appears from this PC World article that Android 3.0 (codenamed Gingerbread) will be a fantastic update. It will be faster, offer better integration with Google, feature an improved user interface and utilise more powerful hardware. It appears to make little sense then to invest in devices like Sony Xperia and Dell Streak which are still running only Android 1.6. Take a look at the chart below from the androphones site, which demonstrates that not only is 70% of the market on the latest two versions of Android, but a huge chunk are already on 2.2 (Froyo) which is the latest stable update.



And what is in store on the hardware front? This post on Smartphonebenchmarks site talks about the new Adreno 205 GPU which will power new HTC phones including the Desire HD (soon to be launched in India). Testing shows the new GPU to offer faster speeds than the earlier Adreno 200, which was used in phones like HTC Evo, Droid Incredible and Nexus One. If that's not enough for you, it is likely that HTC will debut a few phones with Qualcomm Dual Core Mobile chipsets in 2010 or early 2001l. And Motorola's new T2 will feature NVidia Tegra 2 dual core chipset as well.

So basically this means that we should wait for more phones with the new processors! Unless you opt for Samsung Wave or Samsung Galaxy S - Samsung's own Hummingbird processor running on both phones is still faster than anything else on the mobile planet - though the Touch Wiz interface of Samsung does not do full justice to the speeds.

So right now the killer Android phone is still a thing of the future. Sometimes writing this blog can be both funny and frustrating. What I raved about just a few months ago, is already obsolete, and what I  recommend, is not yet in the market. I'm so tempted to just crawl back to my Symbian S60 powered Nokia handset and wait for the dust and heat of the OS wars to settle down.

Monday, October 18, 2010

3G rollout by December 2010?

Earlier I had posted  about the 3G auctions in India and the winners in each circle. It was expected that 3G services would be rolled out by operators starting October 2010.

It appears that the rollout dates are delayed slightly. The government has already allocated the spectrum to the operators. Tata Docomo has announced launch a Diwali launch of its 3G services in 9 circles (Mah. & Goa, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, MP and Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, West UP). The launch may initially be restricted to the top cities. In Mumbai, Reliance, Vodafone and Airtel have promised a rollout by December. No operator has a pan India license, so it is likely that 3G will be introduced in a phased manner across the country.

Now all we can do it wait...

Setting up push mail on Samsung Wave

I have put together this tutorial on activating your push mail on Samsung Wave. While the process was not easy and intuitive as it was on my Nokia E63, it nevertheless worked perfectly for me. I have seen in consumer forums that some users have struggled with it, so I thought of posting this tutorial. Hope this helps other Wave users.

To start with, the Samsung Wave uses Exchange ActivSync (EAS), a Microsoft software that allows PDAs and wireless devices to synchronise mail, contacts etc. with mail servers. Gmail, and more recently hotmail support EAS. I have been searching the net to see if Yahoo! mail supports EAS but can't find a confirmation. Based on my own experience, I can put down the process for setting up gmail and hotmail on your phone.


1. Press the diamond shaped centre key on the phone to go to the menu, where you should see the my accounts option



2. Under my accounts, you will see the following screen, directly click on Exchange ActiveSync Icon


3. You will see the following fields


Enter your details according to the account that you are setting up

For gmail
Email Address : username@googlemail.com
Username : username
Password : enter your password
Server URL : m.google.com
Domain : leave this blank
Use SSL - select to highlight in green

For hotmail

Email Address : username@hotmail.com
Username : username@hotmail.com
Password : enter your password

Server URL : m.hotmail.com
Domain : leave this blank
Use SSL - select to highlight in green

When it is done, save the settings. You should now be able to see your account set up under my accounts. You can tweak the sync settings below.



Also do you see the little icon  above the sync settings? That takes you into sync schedule, which is a critical part of setup. By default, it is defined as push, you can set it as anything else, to ensure that your mail gets synced automatically.



That's it. Now you can enjoy push mail on your Samsung Wave!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why I bought a Samsung Wave

Here's a confession - I have never spent more than Rs. 10,000 on a phone (excluding exchange price on the old handset). Not because I don't believe that high end phones are worth it, but because of my priorities in life. My job requires me to almost constantly work on a laptop, so I would rather put extra money into a high-powered ultraportable. And my first love is music, so I would rather spend on a dedicated MP3 player and 'phones which will give me years of listening pleasure.

The new generation of smartphones have upped my cellphone budget, because with their capabilities they are  mini-computers and fairly serious contenders for a netbook replacement.

And so I have replaced my Nokia E63 with the Samsung Wave.  

My reason for purchase? It's fantastic value for money in terms of specs offered at the price!

The expected price of iPhone 4 in India is at least Rs. 35,000 and the price of most comparable Android powered smartphones is Rs. 28,000 +, including Samsung's own flagship Galaxy S. The Samsung Wave offers equivalent hardware at Rs. 18,000. CNet has already reported that the iPhone 4 and Samsung use similar processing core (both are manufactured by Samsung).

I am aware that this price comparison will not hold in countries other than India where phones are sold on contract.

Here is a full comparison of specs of the iPhone 4 and Samsung Wave from the Samsung Mobile Innovator site






I have to admit though,  that the sticking point was the bada OS (or more precisely, the lack of apps developed for the OS, especially compared to the thousands of apps available for iPhone and Android phones). But I believe that bada is a serious attempt at a smartphone OS by Samsung and the bada app store should grow with time. I have blogged earlier about Samsung's vision for bada;

"The vision of bada is smartphone for everyone. bada's main goal is not to compete with existing smartphone platforms. Instead, bada will turn Samsung's conventional customers into smartphone users by providing cost-effective smartphones. This means that bada will open and extend a new smartphone market which does not exist in the current mobile market"

That's a pretty clear vision and I am ready to live with it for a couple of years at least to see what Samsung comes up with. Meanwhile, Android will become more stable and better, and hopefully, the hardware would become cheaper too!

I definitely intend to post about my experience with Samsung Wave, so do stay tuned if you are interested in buying one.